The former Champlain Inn in Burlington will reopen in December as a year-round homeless shelter for people in need, regardless of their sobriety.
ANEW Place, the nonprofit that operates the city’s only low-barrier shelter, purchased the property at 165 Shelburne Road using a $2.5 million grant from the federal CARES Act. The sale closed last Friday.
“This is a big deal,” ANEW Place executive director Kevin Pounds said at a press conference Monday. A year-round shelter “is a very practical way of saying to some of our most vulnerable neighbors … that you matter to us.”
The facility will be converted into a 33-unit, 50-bed shelter by December 1 and run all year. Previously, the low-barrier shelter on South Winooski Avenue was open only from November until April. The space closed this March when the coronavirus pandemic hit because it was impossible to physically distance in its cramped quarters.
Since then, guests have stayed in rented trailers at the North Beach Campground and in tents there when the lease ran out. For Mayor Miro Weinberger, the pandemic highlighted the need for a year-round shelter, a goal he’s championed since his State of the City address in 2017.
“Often, projects like this die because these are often not popular facilities,” he said on Monday. “I am so thankful that the community here in the South End understood that this was a critical community need.”
The low-barrier shelter first opened as a pilot program in 2014 and has since been run by four different nonprofits. The shelter is primarily funded by a state grant, but the City of Burlington has kicked in $60,000 since fiscal year 2018. Weinberger said he’s open to boosting that allocation in the future to defray the shelter’s operating costs.
Earlier this month, Burlington city councilors approved an emergency zoning change to allow the shelter to operate in the South End. Previously, city zoning limited shelters there to 26 beds. Councilor Joan Shannon (D-South District), who sponsored the resolution, credited Weinberger for bringing a year-round shelter to fruition.
"All of our good intentions isn't what gets things done," she said. "It's people willing to step up with creative solutions and find the money to do it. And that's what this administration has done that nobody else could do."
The inn was not ANEW Place’s first choice for a long-term shelter. In July, the nonprofit applied for a $1.3 million CARES Act grant to build micro sleeping units on city-owned land near the existing Sears Lane homeless encampment, but the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board, which dispenses the state's share of relief funds, denied the request.
Pounds approached the inn’s owner in August, even though the building wasn’t for sale. Within a few weeks, they’d drafted a purchase and sale agreement. “That just doesn’t happen unless somebody has a heart for what we want to do here,” he said.
The federal grant will cover the full cost of the inn and for some renovations to the property. ANEW Place will fundraise for the balance, Pounds said.
The shelter will feature a mixture of private and shared rooms. An adjacent 2,800-square foot home will provide space for guests to do laundry, attend group meetings and meet with social service providers.
“This allows us to bring services to people, and it greatly enhances the chance they’re going to say yes,” Pounds said. “We're really encouraged by just having a space where somebody can walk across the parking lot and meet with a case manager right there. That's a game-changer.”
Weinberger said a year-round shelter will provide another option for folks who reluctantly go camping each summer.
“A lot of people ... would much prefer to have a roof over their head. They would much prefer to be in some kind of low-barrier facility, and one that serves them simply hasn't existed,” the mayor said. “This is a tool that we haven't had in the past.”